The San Francisco 49ers took their first major step of the offseason on Thursday by signing free-agent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, to a 5-year, $137.5 million contract, making him the highest paid player in NFL history. Now seeing what he can do, it’s hard to fathom that the Patriots gave away Garoppolo for a second-round pick just to keep Old Man Tom happy in his few remaining seasons. He was the Steve Young to their Joe Montana, the Aaron Rodgers to their Brett Favre. What a match made in heaven… or at least it could have been. Since the trade, Garoppolo has managed to revitalize and restore hope to the 49er Faithfuls and their beloved organization in a matter of 5 games, including a 44-point scoring performance and win over the “Sacksonville” Jaguars. With the long-term signing of Jimmy G, and nearly $90 million in cap space remaining, we could be looking at a re-emergence of San Francisco as an elite franchise.
Moving forward, the 49ers still have plenty of flaws that they will need to address before training camp begins in May. On the defensive side, the secondary is in need of a number one cornerback, as well as a forceful edge rusher. The 49er defense finished the 2017 season in the bottom tier of the league with a mere 10 interceptions and 30 sacks. On offense, San Francisco desperately needs to fortify their offensive line, with an aging Joe Staley and a shaky interior. Another solid wide receiver couldn’t hurt, but the return of the sure-handed Pierre Garcon should be a huge relief. The front office is expected to be aggressive in free-agency, with big names available such as Jarvis Landry, Malcolm Butler and Ezekiel Ansah. Going off of last year’s draft, featuring picks such as Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, George Kittle, and Trent Taylor, there is anything but concern with John Lynch’s drafting abilities.
Free Agents: Malcolm Butler (27), Trumaine Johnson (28)
The 49ers could very well go out and steal another underappreciated Patriot in Malcolm Butler, who, as we well know, did not play a single snap in Super Bowl 52 (after playing more snaps than any other Patriot on defense during the regular season). Another favorable option would be to go after Trumaine Johnson from the division-rival LA Rams. While Johnson struggled in 2017, he has shown the ability to be a top-tier corner and is expected to bounce back.
Draft Possibilities: Denzel Ward (OSU), Joshua Jackson (Iowa)
Both Ward and Jackson are absolute studs, either of which would vastly improve the deficiency in the 49er secondary. While Ward is slightly undersized for his position (5’10, 195 lbs), he makes up for it with elite athleticism and excellent ball skills. Jackson, on the other hand, is a 6’1, freak athlete who had an exceptional 2017 with the Hawkeyes. The lengthy corner led the Big 10 with eight interceptions, including three against Ohio State.
Free Agents: Ezekiel Ansah (28), Adrian Clayborn (29)
With the lack of production from 2015 top-pick Arik Armstead, San Francisco would be wise to go after a proven pass rusher. Ansah has shown a consistent ability to reach the quarterback in his five year career in Detroit, recording double-digit sacks in 2015 and 2017. Clayborn has not posted as sizable numbers, but he has shown flashes of greatness in his brief time with Atlanta and could be a nice complement to Solomon Thomas and Deforest Buckner.
Draft Possibilities: Bradley Chubb (NC State), Arden Key (LSU)
San Francisco has been unable to draft a dominant edge rusher since Aldon Smith, but with the talent in this year’s draft, that could very well change. Bradley Chubb shows excellent promise as a can't-miss pick, with his production and durability at NC State. The Wolfpack defensive-end recorded 10 sacks along with three forced fumbles in 2017. Arden Key has shown elite play at the college level, but his durability issues warrant some concern. Key had a monster season in 2016 with 12.5 sacks, but these numbers significantly dropped in 2017 as he only played eight games due to injury.
Free Agents: Justin Pugh (27), Andrew Norwell (26)
Despite solid years from tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown, the 49er offensive line was a train wreck in 2017, and not the type of train wreck that would at least block the defense’s path. Inside pressure and a lack of ability to run-block plagued the team all year, but the signing of a veteran guard could help fix this. Justin Pugh had a down year as surrounding issues forced him to move from right guard to right tackle. Pugh could fit nicely with the return of Joshua Garnett next season. Andrew Norwell had the best year of his short career, earning first-team All-Pro accolades. At just 26 years-old, Norwell could grow into a cornerstone of the San Francisco line and would certainly have an immediate impact.
Draft Possibilities: Quentin Nelson (ND), Billy Price (OSU)
Quenton Nelson is an extremely polished guard that has been compared to players such as, Patriots guard, Logan Mankins. Along with his excellent strength and athleticism, Nelson possesses impressive field awareness, which is all the more helpful in a Kyle Shanahan offense. Billy Price is another very talented and athletic guard who has proven his worth at Ohio State. Price is a skillful run-blocker, but will need to work on his pass protection at the NFL level. In a year with low demand for guards, either of these players could be a steal for a frail San Francisco line.